Team management, part 2

In my last column, I discussed the management of your fantasy baseball team from the emotional perspective. After the draft, the early weeks of the season can prove challenging if you get off to a slow start. The challenges of slow starts from star players can get in your head and cause you to make costly mistakes – if you give in to all of the negative emotions you are experiencing.

“April is the cruellest month,” T.S. Eliot wrote in The Waste Land, and April can certainly be a wasteland in MLB. Juan Soto was my first-round draft pick, and he’s currently batting .164. Aaron Nola isn’t on my team only because someone else in my TGFBI league got him first in the middle of the second round. That manager can’t feel good about his 5.91 ERA and 1.45 WHIP.

As stated last week, there hasn’t been enough time to even consider dropping star players who are off to slow starts. Did you buy into all the hype surrounding Jazz Chisholm Jr.? He went in n the third round of my TGFBI draft and is currently batting .237, with six runs, two home runs, five RBI and four stolen bases. I’m sure his managers wanted a lot more out of the Marlins’ star.

Every year, players drafted early get off to slow starts. Othes get injured. Carlos Rodon, drafted at the end of the second round in my league, suffered a forearm strain in spring training and hasn’t thrown a pitch yet. Jose Altuve, selected with the first pick in the third round, suffered a fractured thumb during the World Baseball Classic and may not see any action until June.

I’ve been lucky with injuries – so far. I say lucky because some of the injured players, like Nola and Altuve, aren’t on my team only because they were drafted before I would draft them. That’s part of the reason why I’m off to a great start in TGFBI, 29th overall in the 435-team field. I did lose Joe Musgrove, my sixth round pick, but he’s expected to make his 2023 debut this weekend. 

Frankly, my position players have exceeded my expectations. I’m tied for first in my 15-team league in runs and stolen bases, third in RBI, tied for fifth in home runs and eighth in batting average. Pitching isn’t as good, but it’s not awful. I’m tied for sixth in wins, fifth in saves, sixth in strikeouts, and I’m fifth in ERA and sixth in WHIP. I’m satisfied but not getting complacent.

In the last FAAB run, I added four pitchers, dropping one pitcher who was sent down to the minors, and three injured position players. The injured players dropped included Joc Pederson and Josh Donaldson, who could be activated from the IL soon. But I don’t like carrying injured players on this team with only seven bench spots to play with. There are no IL slots in NFBC.

The fact that I don’t like carrying injured players doesn’t mean I won’t carry injured players. If Soto, is injured, I’ll carry him (unless he suffers a season-ending injury). However, Pederson was an 18th round pick and Donaldson just an afterthought in the 29th round. Pederson, a career .237 hitter, is unlikely to get 400 plate appearances because he doesn’t face left-handed pitching.

I’m sharing this information because you might find it helpful to understand my philosophy and methodology. Four-star general and former secretary of defense Jim Mattis told soldiers that “the   most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.” The same thing can be said about the fantasy baseball battlefield, where you need to do a lot of thinking to be successful.

I may have been guilty of overreacting to my current situation by adding four pitchers to my team. The net gain of three pitchers – two starters and a relief pitcher – left me with 15 on my roster. That’s right, I’m currently carrying 11 starters and four relievers. With only nine pitcher slots to fill in the starting lineup, I have six of my seven bench spots occupied by pitchers.

If you do the math, you realize that I only have one bench spot for a position player. What if one or more of the starting position players gets hurt? Frankly, it’s not if but when. It’s a long season, and I know I’m going to have injuries to deal with. When a starter goes down, I’ll replace him with someone from the waiver wire. If he’s worth keeping, I’ll drop one of my pitchers.

You might be wondering why I would roster 11 pitchers. The answer is that I lack confidence in most of my pitchers. Aside from Julio Urias, Musgrove and Josh Hader, no one has job security on Doubting Thomas’ team. That includes you, Chris Sale. I was happy about your last start but your 8.00 ERA and 1.67 WHIP leave a lot to be desired.

That’s not to say that I didn’t draft some surprisingly good pitchers last month. Justin Steele, my 20th-round pick, is 3-0, with a 1.42 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 24 strikeouts across 25 innings. His dominant performance against the Dodgers in Los Angeles last week made a believer out of many managers. He followed that up with another win on the road on Wednesday in Oakland.  

Steele, like Urias, was an automatic when I locked in my starting lineup for the week in TGFBI. But I agonized over the other 12 pitchers (Hader was an obvious start, too, since he has four of my team’s five saves). This week, I elected to roll with eight starters and one reliever.  The other six starters are Musgrove, Sale, Merrill Kelly, Jack Flaherty, Wade Miley and Colin Rea.

I’ll bet that last name caught you by surprise. If you don’t play in a deep league, he’s not relevant to you. But the 32-year-old did earn a spot in the Brewers rotation last week after a stellar debut in San Diego. Rea didn’t get the win, but he did limit the Padres to one earned run on two hits, walking one and striking out six across 5.2 innings to stick with the major league club for now.  

Rea’s start on Tuesday night wasn’t quite as good, as he surrendered four runs on five hits, walking two and striking out two over five innings. He actually held Seattle scoreless in four of five innings, but got touched up in the third inning. His next opponent is Detroit at home early next week, and he should make that start with Brandon Woodruff on the injured list.

Previous to his two starts this season, Rea hadn’t toed an MLB subber since 2021, but the price was right. While one of my fellow league managers was paying $234 of FAAB for Taj Bradley, I picked up Rea for $2 of FAAB. Maybe Bradley will win a Cy Young, but I’m cheap when it comes to spending FAAB, compared to other managers. I’m always shopping for a bargain.  

Setting your starting lineup is not a perfect science, and two of my benched pitchers turned in great performances this week. Chris Bassitt surprised me by beating Houston Tuesday in Minute Maid Park, pitching six shutout innings on three hits. He struck out five batters. Taijuan Walker picked up his first win, allowing two runs on five hits against the Whitie Sox on Wednesday.

While I hated to lose those stats, I was happy to see two of my marginal pitchers perform so well on the road. Hopefully, it will be a difficult decision every week to set my starting lineup because my pitchers are doing this well. But I know they won’t all do well, and there will be injuries. That’s why you plan ahead, build depth on your roster and keep your fingers crossed.

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about baseball and football for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer.

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